Health is a Choice Series

Part 3 - Genes vs. Habits

Who's Really the Boss?

Most of us have been taught that genetics are the primary factor that determines our health and longevity. This statement is true, but not in the way we’ve been taught. The classic view is that our genes pre-determine our health, how long we live, and what diseases we might contract. The truth is, our genes don’t pre-determine what happens. Instead, they determine what happens every day depending on how we live. Depending on our habits.

I have known this fact for over two decades. Indeed, it was actually the basis for my first book, The Schwarzbein Principle, which I published in 1999. The Schwarzbein Principle is:

Degenerative diseases are not genetic; they are caused by metabolic imbalance.

How did I come to this conclusion? First of all, from my knowledge of hormones. Hormones are chemical communicators that tell the cells of the body what to do. As a trained endocrinologist I already knew that hormones regulate every aspect of our physiology.

From my knowledge of biochemistry, I also understood how nutrition, sleep, stress, exercise, and the consumption of or exposure to foreign chemicals primarily determined what hormones were being produced and secreted, in what amounts, how they acted, and how they interacted with each other. In short, I knew, scientifically, that nutrition and lifestyle habits regulate the hormones that regulate metabolism.

Metabolism is the totality of the countless chemical actions and interactions that occur in your body each day. Your metabolism has two sides – a Building side and a Using side. When the Building side is able to offset all of the using that occurs each day from normal daily living, you have a Balanced Metabolism. When you use more than you build — what we refer to as metabolic imbalance — you literally break down and accelerate the rate at which you age. Aging is a breaking down process.

Knowing that the science supported my conclusion, I then validated that science by having my metabolically imbalanced patients change their habits. When they did, the various problems they had come to see me about in the first place – weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, headaches, depression, anxiety, etc. – resolved without relying on the continuous use of prescription drugs, other than bioidentical hormones.

So, back in the nineties, I knew I was on to something important and that, both scientifically and clinically, I was on solid ground. The fundamental science supported The Schwarzbein Principle. And, seeing consistent clinical results over more than a decade with thousands of patients was compelling.

Even so, I was criticized professionally because, while I could explain what happened and how it happened, I could not explain scientifically why it happened – why habits were the ultimate drivers of human physiology.

The criticism was understandable. In medicine, it is important to know why things happen the way they do. But, at that time, there was no explanation for “why” that could satisfy my critics. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. Today, we know why. We have scientific proof.

Since the late 1990s, much has been learned about genetics and the related field of genomics. As you may recall, the human genome was mapped in 2003. A genome is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism. From the evolving knowledge of the genome emerged “epigenomics,” in simple terms, the study of how the genes in our cells behave (gene expression) based on our environment and our habits.

Because our habits determine which hormones are produced, and in turn which proteins surround our genes, our habits determine how our genes behave and thus our health!

We have always known that genes regulate metabolism. And, we have known that we are born with a fixed (static) set of genes. However, through the new science of epigenomics we discovered that, how this static set of genes actually behaves, is determined by a dynamic set of influences. We learned that there are certain types of proteins (biochemicals) that reside in and around our chromosomes, and it is these proteins that tell our genes how to express themselves, that is, how to behave. It is these proteins, which are continuously modified by our habits, that tell our genes what cellular activity to engage in.

This is why identical twins with identical DNA do not get identical diseases. It is also why, even though genetics (the heritable sequence of the DNA) plays a role in disease, it does not play the primary role. About 80% of what happens to us is determined by our day-to-day habits, which influence how our genes are expressed – the fundamental premise of my first book and the cornerstone of the Schwarzbein Program.

The bottom line is, because your habits determine which hormones are produced, and, in turn, which proteins surround your genes, fundamentally, your habits determine how your genes behave and, thus, your health! As you change your habits you can change the proteins that regulate your gene expression. This change takes time. The amount of time depends on how compromised or damaged your metabolism is.

Epigenomics is the scientific proof that your habits (you), not your genes (fate), are the primary determinants of your health.

Epigenomics is the science that gave us the answer to why what I was seeing with my patients was happening. Thankfully, epigenomics has scientifically validated the Schwarzbein Principle. We now know why we have a high degree of control over what our DNA does or does not do. What disease we end up with and when it occurs is up to us. We determine our fate. It is that simple and that wonderful!

Indeed, when it comes to your health, it’s all about your habits. So, you need to know which of your habits are healthy and which are not. Soon, we’ll be able to answer that question and many, many more to help you take charge of your health.

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Health is a Choice Series (3/3)